Jan. 21, 2017, women marched in solidarity after the inauguration of President Trump. It wasn’t just an opportunity to employ voices and bodies as a symbol of resistance. It was a chance to have a moment and a renewed sense of purpose — especially in the case of L.A. singer-songwriter Connie K. Lim.
Lim, who records and performs under the name Milck (styled as MILCK), released her single “Quiet” three days prior to the march. An empowerment anthem, it features the lyric, “I can’t keep quiet/A one-woman riot.” She performed it in Washington, D.C. — the march’s epicenter — with 25 other women she found online. The footage has been viewed online more than 14 million times. For a 30-year-old who’s been trying to break into music for a decade, it has created a ripple effect beyond her dreams.
Via her song’s message of outspokenness, MILCK has opened up Pandora’s Box. Scores of once-muzzled women are telling their darkest truths, even getting lyrics to “Quiet” tattooed on their bodies.
On a Friday afternoon in March, arriving at Bronson Canyon for a hike, Lim is tired but grateful for the past two months. This is her first hike since spraining her ankle on Christmas Day, a physical blow that came after she received word she was being dropped by her management. Then, on New Year’s Day, her home was burgled.
“In November I was eating hot Cheetos, watching The Matrix, thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ But then I thought, ‘OK, something good must be coming.’ I didn’t care that I’d lost my computer, that I couldn’t walk. I was so focused on releasing ‘Quiet’ myself and going to the march. Nothing could stop me at that point.”
By the time of the march, Lim could stand long enough to perform the song. When she wasn’t singing, friends pushed her in a wheelchair.
“Quiet” — a piano-led, Sia-like ballad — wasn’t written as a response to Trump’s election. It came to Lim in 2015 after a vivid dream during which she re-enacted a past abusive relationship she’d had when she was 14. As she was being hit, someone observing told her to keep quiet. “I said, ‘I can’t keep quiet,’” Lim says. “Then I woke up, haunted.”
She told the story to her co-writer, Adrianne Gonzalez, who prompted her to write a chorus around the words. The song is an act of rebellion, defying the laws of radio-friendly songwriting rules. “I was like, fuck everybody,” she says.
Raised in Palos Verdes, Lim is the middle child of immigrant parents from Hong Kong. Her elder sister wanted to be a doctor from the age of 6 and was “a Chinese parent’s dream.” Lim could never live up to her. Having come to America with nothing and paid his way through medical school by flipping burgers, her father was worried when Lim showed signs of being artistic.
Despite excelling in school and being homecoming queen, as a teen, Lim suffered from anorexia, at one point weighing 90 pounds. “I was put on a diet when I was 10. My mother said that women with smaller mouths are attractive, so keep my mouth small, don't talk or laugh so loud. I was taught to observe and listen. I burnt time burning calories when I could have been thinking about other things.”
While at UC Berkeley, attempting pre-med to appease her father, Lim performed in an acapella group, wrote and recorded songs, and started a band. By her third year, she’d told her parents she was doing music, a decision she and her father argued about for the next two years. Her parents started to come around when she signed to a big management company and got a spot on The Voice’s first season. “It didn’t mean much to me, but I knew it would to them.”
Her television experience was dreadful. When the show’s staff overheard her doing an impression of her mother’s accent, they tried to get her to do it for the cameras. “It all freaked me out.”
Lim is grateful that she maintained self-belief against the odds, but it took until her mid-20s to seek therapy and learn how to protect herself. Afterward, she realized who she wanted to be. “It’s amazing how the truth slips through our fingers.”
Today, Lim’s manic schedule is a struggle she’s delighted to have. “At the women’s march before everything went viral, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m not just an artist, I want to be an activist.’ Now what I say has more weight.”
She says she receives messages every day from newly vocal listeners as far-flung as Australia and Sweden, telling her of threats to women’s rights all over the world. Everyone from rock duo Tegan and Sara to comedian Amy Poehler and actress Debra Messing are fans.
“Feminism is pop right now.” -MILCK
There’s hate mail, too. When she collaborated with YouTube on an International Women’s Day video, Lim noticed 60,000 dislikes to 30,000 likes on the day of publication. The comments were a wake-up call. “‘You fucking Asian whore, go back to where you came from,’” she quotes, shrugging it off. “I must be doing something right.”
A couple months after our hike, Lim calls to confirm news she wasn’t ready to divulge earlier: MILCK has inked a deal with Atlantic Records. She plans to announce this development to her fans via a handwritten letter (which you can read here). I pose to Lim that it’s an interesting move, given activism’s increased marketability. Currently, being woke is a lucrative sales tactic. Just look at Katy Perry’s latest “political pop” song, “Chained to the Rhythm,” or Lyft’s initiative to donate to the ACLU. Is it difficult to maintain an authentic fight while knowing you’re filling up a corporation’s coffers?
“There’s something about who I represent that’s much bigger than me,” Lim explains. “What Asian-American woman at the age of 30 has signed to a major? I don’t know.”
Balancing her career with the women’s movement will be tough, but it’s something she says Atlantic Records — which she chose to sign with, in part because of its female chairman and COO, Julie Greenwald — is working with her on. “Feminism is pop right now. We need to keep our eye on the long haul.”
Lim’s aim is to break the notion of what she terms “the exceptional woman,” a construct designed by men of a woman who raises a family, works and wears designer clothes. She offers the example of Ivanka Trump. “Nobody can sustainably be that and it's such a genius way of making women feel less than.”
Because “Quiet” was written at a time of isolation and darkness, the plan is first to rerecord the song and rerelease it via Atlantic. When she performed it at the women’s march, it took on a whole new meaning to her. Lim wants to capture that joy. “I want to inject more hope and community into the song. I want to provide that for my fans,” she says.
She’s also been writing new material, which she says is both personal and chimes with the current political climate. “As a minority female, everything I do is inherently political,” MILCK says. “I encounter things the mainstream doesn’t understand. I want to write songs about my story so I can give people space to live it with me or to use it for their own lives.”
[Correction: Portions of this story were changed after publication to remove an inaccuracy regarding the nature of Milck's past abusive relationship and to correctly reflect her relationship with her parents.]